Pioneering Filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker Dies Aged 94 | Film News


The legendary filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker has died aged 94.


He died of natural causes on August 1 at his home in Long Island, according to his family.


He was best known for the 1967 Bob Dylan documentary Don’t Look Back, and Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, the 1973 concert film that captured David Bowie’s final performance as Ziggy Stardust at Hammersmith Odeon.


Pennebaker began his film career in the 1960s, pioneering the use of handheld cameras and adopting an intimate filming style known as cinéma verité.


He teamed up with British film-maker Richard Leacock to develop one of the first hand-held, synchronous-sound cameras which allowed him to get closer to his subjects, capturing unguarded moments and snippets of conversation, minimising the need for narration.


He directed his first short film, Daybreak Express, in 1953, which set the elevated trains of New York City at the soon-to-be-demolished Third Avenue subway station to the music of Duke Ellington.


In 1959 Pennebaker co-founded Drew Associates with Leacock and former LIFE magazine editor Robert Drew.


Their first film Primary was released in 1960 and followed John F Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey from dawn to midnight for five days, as they campaigned for the Democratic presidential nomination.


From there he was invited to join Bob Dylan’s 1965 tour of England, where he created Don’t Look Back.


The film became a critical and commercial success, following Dylan as he prepares to abandon his folk-based sound for the allure of rock and roll.


Bitten by the music bug, Monterey Pop followed in 1968, capturing Janis Joplin, The Who and Otis Redding at the previous year’s Monterey International Pop Music Festival.


In 1973, he was invited to London to shoot David Bowie’s final concert as his alter-ego Ziggy Stardust.


He had no idea who Bowie was but quickly became a fan.


“What I saw when David got on stage, was one person totally holding that stage for two hours”, he later recalled. “I thought, ‘There’s not many people who can do that, I better get this all on film while it lasts’.”


His later musical films included the Depeche Mode road movie 101, the John Lennon concert film Live in Toronto ’69, and Company: Original Cast Album, which documented the harrowing 18-hour recording session for Steven Sondheim’s Broadway musical.


He earned an Oscar nomination for best documentary feature in 1994 for his 1993 documentary The War Room about Bill Clinton’s campaign for the 1992 presidential election.


Pennebaker’s final film was 2016’s Unlocking The Cage, about the work of the Nonhuman Rights Project and lawyer Steven Wise’s efforts to achieve legal rights for nonhuman animals.


He received the Academy Honorary Award, or life-time Oscar, in 2013.



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